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In sickness and in health
Last updated: Friday, July 31, 2015

Getting married means promising to support your spouse through good times and bad. But is fulfilling this promise sometimes just too great a burden to bear when the person you married becomes seriously ill?

The fact is that the healthy partner often pays a high price as the caregiver. What’s more, caregivers are often reluctant to admit that they feel stressed because they feel guilty. This guilt, experts warn, can lead to physical and emotional burnout – a state that intensifies the guilt and ultimately also gives rise to feelings of failure.

Caregivers also often carry an unnecessarily heavy burden because they allow the situation to become serious before seeking help. “Many are in denial about their partner’s problems,” says Aletta Louw, who has specialised in geriatric and disabled nursing.

“I often hear excuses like ‘my husband has always been a little confused’ when the truth is he has Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Caregivers also often shy away from putting a loved one in a home.”

Among the illnesses caregivers develop as a result of the enormous pressure they’re under are stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, diabetes, and poor eating habits or eating problems. Out of pure frustration caregivers often turn to alcohol or overeating, and they don’t get enough stress-releasing exercise because they can’t get out of the house.

Caregivers’ chances of becoming fatally ill are also 64% higher than those of partners who don’t play a care-giving role. The risk can persist or worsen if the loved one dies. Louw says doctors often find that patients develop cancer or chronic diseases 18 months after their spouse passes away.

But it’s not just the caregiver whose stress levels increase. “The patient also realises something is seriously wrong but can’t always put it into words. This causes f ... Read more


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